AskDefine | Define taro

Dictionary Definition



1 edible starchy tuberous root of taro plants [syn: cocoyam, dasheen, eddo]
2 herb of the Pacific islands grown throughout the tropics for its edible root and in temperate areas as an ornamental for its large glossy leaves [syn: taro plant, dalo, dasheen, Colocasia esculenta]
3 tropical starchy tuberous root [syn: taro root, cocoyam, dasheen, edda]

User Contributed Dictionary



Polynesian (Maori)



  1. A tropical plant raised as a food primarily for its corm that distantly resembles potato.
  2. The edible portion of the taro plant.

Scientific names



tropical plant
edible portition of the taro plant
Translations to be checked

See also

Extensive Definition

Taro (from Tahitian or other Polynesian languages), more rarely kalo (from Hawaiian), is a tropical plant grown primarily as a vegetable food for its edible corm, and secondarily as a leaf vegetable. It is considered a staple in oceanic cultures. It is believed to be one of the earliest cultivated plants. Taro is closely related to Xanthosoma and Caladium, plants commonly grown as ornamentals, and like them it is sometimes loosely called elephant ear. In its raw form the plant is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate, although the toxin is destroyed by cooking or can be removed by steeping taro roots in cold water overnight.

Names and origin

Taro was probably first native to the lowland wetlands of Malaysia (taloes). Estimates are that taro was in cultivation in wet tropical India before 5000 B.C., presumably coming from Malaysia, and from India further transported westward to ancient Egypt, where it was described by Greek and Roman historians as an important crop.
Taro's scientific name is Colocasia esculenta (synonym C. antiquorum); esculent is an English word taken directly from Latin and means edible. The Xanthosoma genus is closely related, and several common names including callaloo and coco or cocoyam are used to refer to either Taro or domesticated Xanthosoma species which share substantially the same uses. Taro may be distinguished as "taro cocoyam" or "old cocoyam", with the term "new cocoyam" referring to species of Xanthosoma.
In Kenya, taro root is referred to as arrow root, or by the Kikuyu word ndŭma. In South Africa, it referred to by the Zulu word amaDumbe or the anglicised madumbi. In some Caribbean countries, it is sometimes known as dasheen, a name said to be derived from the French de Chine which means from China and evokes the plant's Asian origins. The leaves are used to make a soup popular in the West Indies, called kallaloo soup. In Cyprus it is known as kolokassi, which is similar to the name the Romans used: colocasia. Taro is also known as dalo In the Fijian Islands and in Japan as satoimo. Eddoe is another name for taro, although this one seems to be preferentially used to designate small corm varieties.


The small round variety is peeled and boiled, sold either frozen, bagged in its own liquids, or canned. The plant is actually inedible when raw because of needle-shaped raphides in the plant cells.
Typical of leaf vegetables, taro leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, and a very good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese. Taro corms are very high in starch, and are a good source of dietary fiber. Oxalic acid may be present in the corm and especially in the leaf, and these foods should be eaten with milk or other foods rich in calcium so as to remove the risks posed by ingesting the oxalate ion, especially for people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis. Calcium reacts with the oxalate to form calcium oxalate which is very insoluble.


Taro was used by the early Romans in much the same way the potato would later be used by Europeans. They called this root vegetable colocasia. Apicius mentions several methods for preparing taro. The text of Apicius seems to imply that the usual cooking method was to boil taro in water. Apicius suggests that a sauce be made from pepper, cumin, rue, vinegar, oil and liquamen to be served with chopped pieces of boiled taro. Apicius also mentions recipes in which pieces of taro are cooked along with meat or fowl, similar to the manner in which potatoes are now used in European meat dishes. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of taro gradually ceased in Europe. This was largely due to the decline of trade and commerce, as most of the taro used throughout the Roman Empire had been grown and exported from Egypt.

South Asia

Taro is extensively used in South Asia. In South India's Kerala state, it is used as a staple food, as a side dish, or as a component in various side dishes. As a staple food it is steamed, and eaten with a chutney of green pepper and shallot onions. The leaves and stems of certain varieties of taro are used as a vegetable in Kerala. A tree-growing variety of taro is extensively used in the western coast of India to make "patrade" or "patrada", literally "leaf-pancake". These are either made like fritters, or are steamed and eaten. In another South Indian state, Andhra Pradesh, taro corms are known as 'chamagadda' and can be cooked in many ways, deep fried in oil for a side item with rice, or cooked in a tangy tamarind sauce with spices, onion and tomato. In the Indian state of Gujarat it is used to make patra, a dish with the leaves of the plant prepared with tamarind and other spices.
In Nepal and the Indian state of Uttarakhand, it is considered a health food with a variety of cooking styles. The most common style is boiling it in salty water in iron cooking pots until it becomes like porridge. Another style is to steam the young leaves called 'gava', sun-dry and then store it for later use. For another variety, the taro leaves and stems are used raw as an ingredient for pickles. The leaves and stems are mixed with black lentils and then dried as small balls called 'badi' and used later on. The stems are also sun-dried and stored for later use. On one special day, women worship 'saptarshi' (seven sages) and have rice with taro leaf vegetable only.

China and Hong Kong

Taro is commonly used within Chinese cuisine in a variety of styles, mainly as a flavor enhancing ingredient. It is commonly braised with pork or beef. It is used in the dim sum cuisine of southern China to make a small plated dish called taro dumpling, as well as a pan-fried dish called taro cake. It is also woven to form a seafood birdsnest. The taro cake is also a delicacy traditionally eaten during the Chinese New Year. In desserts it is used in tong sui, bubble tea, and as a flavoring in ice cream.

West Africa

Taro is consumed as a staple crop in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria and Cameroon. It is called cocoyam in Nigeria, Ghana and Anglophone Cameroon. It is called macabo in Francophone Cameroon.

Japan and Taiwan

In Japan and Taiwan, supermarket varieties range from about the size and shape of a brussels sprout to longer, larger varieties the size of an adult male's fist. Taro chips are often used as a potato chip-like snack. Compared to potato chips, taro chips are harder and have a more assertive nutty flavor. They are generally made from upland taro because of their lower moisture.

South Korea

In South Korea, it is called toran (토란) meaning "egg from earth", and the corm is stewed and the leaf stem is stir-fried. Taro roots can be used for medicinal purposes, particularly for curing insect bites.


In Vietnam, where taro is called khoai môn or khoai sọ, it is used as a filling in spring rolls, cakes, puddings, soups and other desserts.

United States

In Hawaii, taro is a traditional staple, as in many tropical areas of the world, and is the base for making poi. In Chinatowns, people often use taro in Chinese cuisine, though it is not consumed or popularized nearly as much as in Asian and Pacific nations. Since the late 20th century, taro chips have been available in many supermarkets and natural food stores. In the 1920's, dasheen, as it was known, was highly touted by the Secretary of the Florida Department of Agriculture as a valuable crop for growth in muck fields. Fellsmere, Florida, near the east coast, was a farming area deemed perfect for growing dasheen. It was used in place of potatoes and dried to make flour. Dasheen flour was said to make excellent pancakes when mixed with wheat flour.


In the Philippines, taro is called gabi. A popular rendition of the taro is Laing (pronounced /lah - ing/) which originates from the Bicol region in Southern Luzon. The dish's main ingredients are taro stem and leaf cooked in coconut milk, salted with fermented shrimp or fish bagoong. It is also heavily spiced with red hot chilis called "sili'ng labuyo."
Another dish where taro finds common use in the Filipino kitchen is the Philippine national stew of Sinigang. This sour stew has versions for pork/beef and fish. It is the Pork Sinigang where peeled and diced Taro root is a basic ingredient.
Finally, the third most common use of taro in the Filipino diet is in "Ginataan" literally meaning "cooked with coconut milk." This form of dessert where coconut milk and taro is combined along with indigenous ingredients such as sago and jackfruit is shared throughout the Indochinese and Southeast Asian regions.

West Indies

Taro is called Dasheen in the West Indies is cultivated and consumed as a staple crop in the region.


Taro is grown in the south coast of Turkey, especially in Mersin and Antalya. It is boiled in a tomato sauce or cooked with meat, beans and chickpeas.


In Cyprus, taro has been in use since the time of the Roman Empire. Today it is known as "kolokassi" which is similar to the name the Romans used: colocasia. It is usually stewed with celery (and sometimes meat) in a tomato sauce. Taro also grows on Ikaria island; Ikarians credit the taro for saving them from famine during World War II.


Taro can be grown in paddy fields or in upland situations where watering is supplied by rainfall or by supplemental irrigation. Some varieties of taro can also be grown away from the tropics.


Taro is usually grown in pondfields called loi in Hawaiian. The picture below shows several small loi in Maunawili Valley on Oahu. The ditch on the left in the picture is called an auwai and supplies diverted stream water to the loi. Cool, flowing water yields the best crop. Some of the taro plants in the foreground have been harvested and the caretakers are preparing to replant the huli stacked at their feet. These are the top portion of the corm with a short piece of bladeless leafstem.
Typical dryland or upland varieties (varieties grown in watered but not flooded fields) in Hawaii are lehua maoli and bun long, the latter widely known as Chinese taro. Bun long is used for making taro chips. Dasheen (also called "eddo") is another "dryland" variety of C. esculenta grown for its edible corms or sometimes just as an ornamental plant.
The Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service puts the 10-year median production of taro in the Hawaiian Islands at about 6.1 million pounds (2,800 t; Viotti, 2004). However, 2003 taro production in Hawaii was only 5 million pounds (2,300 t), an all-time low (record keeping started in 1946). The previous low, reached in 1997, was 5.5 million pounds (2,500 t). Yet, despite generally growing demand, production was even lower in 2005: only 4 million pounds, with kalo for processing into poi accounting for 97.5%. Urbanization has driven down harvests from a high of 14.1 million pounds (6,400 t) in 1948. But more recently the decline has resulted from pests and diseases. A non-native apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) is a major culprit in the current crop declines. Also, a plant rot disease, traced to a newly identified species of the fungal genus, Phytophthora, now plagues crops throughout the state. Although pesticides could control both pests to some extent, pesticide use in the pondfields is barred because of the clear opportunity for chemicals to quickly migrate into streams and then into the ocean.
In early April 2008, the Hawaiian House Agriculture Committee voted 9-3 to send a bill to the full house that would put a 5 year moratorium on genetic modification of taro in Hawaii. This moratorium would only apply to Hawaiian varieties of taro, thereby allowing genetic alteration of non-native species. This would include possible alteration to Chinese varieties, which are currently being grown in Hawaii, giving rise to an opportunity for cross-pollination.


Although taro has been a staple of the Fijian diet for centuries, its growth as a commercial crop can be said to have begun in 1993 when the taro leaf blight decimated the taro industry in neighboring Samoa. Fiji filled the void and was soon supplying taro to the large Polynesian populations of New Zealand, Australia, and Los Angeles in the United States.
Almost 80% of Fiji's exported taro comes from the Island of Taveuni.
Currently, the Fijian taro industry is under threat from the taro beetle, with the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) conducting research into how best to control this pest.

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico it is used in stews, soups and as a potato. It is used in local Puerto Rican dishes such as pasteles, alcapurria, sancocho and mondongo. In pasteles, taro is ground with green bananas, plantains into a dough-like fluid paste containing pork, ham and boiled in a banana leaf or paper wrapper. In alcapurrias, it is also ground with green bananas and made into fried croquets containing ground beef or the chopped ham and fresh pork mix used in pasteles. The sancocho and mondongo dishes are soups.




  • Hao, Sean. 2006. "Rain, pests and disease shrink taro production to record low". Honolulu Advertiser, February 2, 2006, p. C1.
  • "The Future of Kalo" Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine Vol.11 No. 5 (August 2006).
  • "Powered by Poi" Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine Vol.11 No.4 (July 2007)
  • Stephens, James M. 1994. Dasheen –– Colocasia exculenta (L.) Schott. Fact Sheet HS-592 from a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. May 1994. edis
  • Taro climate at (taro growing methods)
  • Taveuni Taro at (Fiji taro industry history)
  • Viotti, V. 2004. Honolulu Advertiser, March 16, 2004.
  • Wagner, W. L., D. R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer. 1999. Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai‘i. Revised edition. Vol. 2. Univ. of Hawei‘i Press/Bishop Museum Press. p. 1357.
taro in Min Nan: Ō͘-á
taro in Catalan: Taro
taro in German: Taro
taro in Spanish: Colocasia esculenta
taro in French: Colocasia
taro in Iloko: Aba
taro in Indonesian: Taro
taro in Italian: Colocasia esculenta
taro in Latin: Taro
taro in Lithuanian: Kolokazija
taro in Dutch: Taro
taro in Japanese: タロイモ
taro in Polish: Taro
taro in Portuguese: Taro
taro in Russian: Таро (растение)
taro in Finnish: Taro
taro in Swedish: Taro
taro in Tonga (Tonga Islands): Talo
taro in Turkish: Gölevez
taro in Vietnamese: Môn nước
taro in Chinese: 芋
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